I occasionally hear ghost-stories from people I know. I actually don’t believe in ghosts, and on the few occasions where I have attempted to investigate these types of things I’ve always ended up with only two results: either no unusual phenomena happens, or I discover that people are misattributing something normal to a ghost.
Even though I don’t believe in ghosts, I’m always interested when people say that there is some verifiable ghost-phenomena going on. It makes me want to investigate, if for no other reason that the possibility that I am wrong about my naturalistic beliefs and the existence of an afterlife.
Here’s a few of my stories of encountering ghost/supernatural phenomena:
When I was younger, there was a story in my town about a section of woods that was haunted by two spirits. This patch of woods also happened to be directly adjacent to a large cemetery. There were a variety of stories about these woods, and strange things that happened there during the night. One night, I was talking to a guy I knew, and he said that whenever he drove through those woods, you could hear something walking through the woods behind the right-side of the car. So, a group of us went out there and drove through the woods. Sure enough, as we drove through the woods, you could hear what sounded like the faint sound of someone in the darkness stepping on leaves and branches to the right/rear of the car. It kept perfect pace with us, and was genuinely scary and strange. Once we got out of the woods, we were all talking about it, and I got an idea. I jumped out of the car, and told him to drive forward slowly. Sure enough, there was a sound coming from his right rear axle that sounded just like breaking branches. The sound was apparently bouncing off the forest trees, and only seemed like it was coming from off in the distance.
A year or two later, some friends and I went into those same woods around midnight looking for something, anything. At this point, I was very skeptical about the supernatural and I wanted to find evidence that I was wrong. We ended up seeing nothing strange at all.
Another time, just days after I had moved into an apartment in a very old building, I was falling asleep one night when I heard a slight sound coming from the other (empty) bedroom. I turned on the light and went to investigate. But, there was no sound. I went back to bed, and within a few minutes, I heard something again. My hair was starting to stand on end. I snuck into the living room and turned on the light. The sound disappeared, and I checked all the windows. Everything seemed perfectly in order. I went back to bed and waited for the sound again. Within a few minutes, it started again, so I snuck around in the dark. As I got closer to the second bedroom, I heard what sounded like someone slowly crushing a piece of paper. I was very creeped-out. I turned on the light, and a little mouse came running out of my garbage.
A few people have told me their encounters with ghosts. A neighbor of mine said that, when she was in college, they lived in a house that they “knew” was haunted. She said the kitchen towels would disappear, and no one could find them. One night, they had a Ouiji board, and they started asking it questions. The Ouiji board told them to go look under the stairs. When they looked, they found all the missing kitchen towels, and no one knew there was even a space under the stairs. There were a couple doubts I had about her story though. One possibility is that one of her roommates had put the towels there, and controlled the Ouiji board to tell them to look there. The other one involves the fact that this neighbor of mine was a known sleepwalker. She’s been known to walk around her building, sleep-walking and sleep-talking. In one case, she knocked on a neighbors door at 4am and started to have a half-coherent conversation with the just woken neighbor. She didn’t remember what happened the next morning. Given her history of sleep-walking, it seemed quite possible that she was moving the kitchen towels under the stairs in the middle of the night and not remembering it the next morning. Maybe she even subconsciously had the Ouiji board tell everyone to look under the stairs.
This is one of the problems I have with second-hand ghost stories. You never quite know what’s fact, if someone is embellishing or misremembering, or if there are clues that you don’t know because you aren’t there when the phenomena happens. It’s a little like trying to explain a magic trick based on someone’s second-hand memories of what they saw.
Well, just in time for Halloween, Joan Juliet Buck has a story about a haunted apartment where she lived in Paris. I have to admit, if I had a lot more money and time, I would want to track down this place and verify the story. I doubt anything would happen, but it would make for an interesting YouTube investigation nevertheless. And, if I could be proven wrong about my beliefs, that would be a good thing, too. (I wonder how many religious believers would say that?) Here’s an mp3 of her story from The Moth podcast.
Joan Juliet Buck: The Ghost of the Rue Jacob
It occurred to me later that the phenomena Joan Buck experienced could be explained by carbon monoxide.
Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas, but, being colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating, it is very difficult for people to detect. Carbon monoxide is a product of combustion of organic matter with insufficient oxygen supply and is often produced in domestic or industrial settings by motor vehicles and other gasoline-powered tools, heaters, and cooking equipment. (Source)
At high levels, it can kill you, but at low levels, it can produce “strange visions and sounds, feelings of dread, illness … listlessness, depression, dementia, emotional disturbances, and hallucinations.” (Source) It can also cause vertigo (explaining her dad’s fall). She mentions these things happening in October (10:25), so she begins to experience these things during the night as fall/winter approaches, which is exactly when the windows would be closed and an old furnace would be most active (potentially kicking-out carbon monoxide). Additionally, carbon monoxide is combustible, which would explain why her incense burned especially bright.